Creative Light Blog

Little Rocky Creek Shut-ins

 


During my recent Missouri Ozark workshop I took the group to a lesser known shut-in along the Ozark Trail between Rocky Falls and Klepzig Mill.  It was not a long hike, about a half mile off the main road, crossing a couple light marshy areas through some pines and scattered hardwoods.  Soon we had to ascend a rather rocky path, not difficult, but still requiring mindful placement of feet due to wet rock surfaces resulting from rain the night before.  It was early morning. In fact it was necessary to delay the start of our hike slightly so as to avoid the need for headlamps.  There was no wind and the previous nights rain dampened not only the ground but any sounds in the forest, all now still and quite except for the sound of Little Rocky Creek as we came closer to our destination.

At the top of our ascent we came upon a small clearing exposing access the these small shut-ins.  The morning fog and subtle light offered some fantastic shooting conditions.  Only having an hour at this site we had to quickly engage our creative processes to come away with memorable images.  The mode, colors of the ryolite boulders, the morning fog, early light, and subtle budding fall colors helped reward our efforts.

IF INTERESTED IN OUR SCHEDULED SPRING WORKSHOP IN THE OZARKS CHECK OUT THE DETAILS HERE:  https://www.craigmccordphotography.com/Workshops-2

 

String Lake and Recovering a Poor Exposure


During our recent photography workshop in the Grand Tetons we chose String Lake as our last evening shooting location.  Due to a slightly extended stay at an earlier spot, we now found ourselves racing the sun as we made our dash toward String Lake along the Jenny Lake Loop road.  Finally arriving, we gathered our gear and quickly marched toward the lake trail, passing signs warning us to be bear aware.  These warning certainly gained our group’s attention since most of our shooting locations did not lend themselves to likely bear habitat.  Not the case here.  The collective concern was magnified by the recent news of a hunting guide being mauled to death by a grizzly near the park just a short week or 10 days before.  But we had no need to hike any distance as the lake’s edge was close by and determination to catch the quickly diminishing last light at String Lake drove us on.

Moving quickly, I led the group toward a location I had previously visited, stepping over fallen pine logs, rocks and other debris, as we trudged along a finger off the main trail, our movement accented by my friend’s banging small stones against rocks warning any unsuspecting bears of our presence.  Arriving at lake’s edge we had little time to find a suitable composition to record our final night in the Tetons.  In haste I managed to fire off a few shots knowing I would likely have to do a post processing blend to capture the needed dynamic range.  Taking three quick exposures, two stops of exposure apart, I anticipated I would have the needed data to complete the desired image.  Only later did I realize I had started my sequence too low and the result would have my sequence well under exposed.  Normally, I would just have deleted the whole group.  But having just received the new version of Skylum’s HDR 2019, I decided to just see how far I could go with my challenging under exposed sequence.

Sony A7rIII, FE 24-105 F4 @26mm, 1/4 sec, f/16, iso 100
Sony A7rIII, FE 24-105 F4 @26mm, 1 sec, f/16, ISO100
Sony A7rIII, FE 24-105 F4 @26mm, 4 sec, f/16, ISO100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But having just received the new version of Skylum’s HDR 2019, I decided to just see how far I could go with my challenging under exposed sequence.

 

For reference I show here the three RAW files I used as a basis for the final image.  As one can see, these are not ideal to work with and one can appreciate how I might just toss these images and scratch my head as to how I could have made such an error.  I can only surmise in my haste to make the shot and hike back out before Mr. Grizzly got curious about my friend noisily banging rocks, I failed to examine my histogram, something for which I always admonish my students.

The final image, however, surprised me and further demonstrates the ever increasing power of our post processing tools.  My initial post processing utilized the Skylum HDR 2019 to create an image from which I continued the process to completion.  Clearly I also used my normal Lightroom workflow and finished in Photoshop with other tools such as DxO’s newly acquired NIK software.

While this writing is not meant as a review of either Skylum or NIK software, as such would need a much more in-depth examination, it is a demonstration on how we can use today’s tools to recover some of our mistakes and further really make our best images sing.

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INFORMATION ON 2019 AUTUMN IN THE GRAND TETONS WORKSHOP: CLICK  HERE

Last Morning Light at Swawbacher’s Landing

 

Just finished up my 2018 Grand Tetons workshop.  Another great group of folks.  We all had a great time and captured some fine images.  Certainly the colors were more timely this year than last.  This shot was at our last morning shoot. Temps were worthy of a few hand warmers in the coat pocket or mittens.  As usual we had to arrive at least 1 1/2 hrs prior to sunrise to ensure being able to place claim to some ideal locations but to our surprise the early crowd was not as heavy as in previous days.  We were hoping for a little more dramatic light but were grateful for what we got.  Forest fires around the area did haunt us to some degree with some hazy days but still an overall successful venture.

More to come in the coming days.

Hope you can join us next year.

GRAND TETONS AUTUMN COLORS WORKSHOP 2019

 

Night Sky Season :: Be Prepared


Night sky photography is becoming ever more popular these days.  The night sky has fascinated man for millennia.  Vincent Van Gough wrote about his fascination with the night sky, writing: “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.”  Certainly his fascination with the stars was the inspiration of his painting, “Starry Night”.  No less today when we venture out to the dark countryside, with our without camera in hand, we cannot help but look up on a dark night, allowing the stars and planets to captivate our attention and imaginations, allowing us to speculate about the vastness of our galaxy and the universe.

Vincent Van Gough wrote about his fascination with the night sky, writing: “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.”

Without a doubt the advancement of technology in camera sensors has opened up a whole new area of photography largely unavailable to us 15 years ago.  With each new camera generation, which seems to span only about 18 -24 months,  low light capture capabilities continue to advance.  It’s no wonder that nighty sky photography is one of the fastest growing segments of landscape photography.  So if you are ready to venture out into the dark night, be prepared.  If you are, you can come away with some amazing images.  Here are some things to consider

Equipment

Camera:  First I will assume that most realize you are not going to be taking a smart phone to a dark sky area to shoot Milky Way pictures.  However, there are a wide variety of digital SLRs all of which are not best suited for night sky photography.  That said, if you understand what features are important and the limitations of your equipment, it  can help in making decisions to get the most out of your night photography event.

Full-frame cameras a best suited because the tend to have a higher dynamic range and usually perform better than cropped sensor cameras for night photography.  Which full-frame camera is best?  The one you have.  Seriously, there are a number of models/makes that have proven performance in low light.  Probably one of the best is the Sony A7RIII, Sony’s latest flagship model.  It’s sensor is simply a level above others in my opinion.  But there are others that do quite well including Canon’s 5D Mark IV, as well as it predecessor the 5D Mark III.  The Canon entry level full-frame the 6D also does well.  Nikon’s 810 and 850 are also great, as are some of the earlier full frame versions.  The Olympus OPM-D E-M5 Mark II and the Panasonic Lumix are also great performers. There are others as well.  However, do not despair if your camera has a crop sensor.  You can still get some good images and as important have some fun in the learning process.

Lenses:  One thing that is important regardless of camera format is the speed of your lens.  Really you should have a lens of f/2.8 or faster.  While you can get by with one with f/3.5 if you have to, realize you are losing a half stop of light and will have to compensate by pushing your ISO even higher, resulting likely in  additional noise.  I will save a more in-depth discussion of lenses for another post but will say that Rokinon/Samyang lenses are excellent lenses for night photography, although they are all manual and may take a little getting used to.  The good side is because they are manual they are less expensive than other prime lenses.

Technique

FocusingNow focusing will be one of your biggest problems.  Here’s why.  For the Milky Way you will likely be shooting during a New Moon phase.  It will be quite dark and your camera cannot detect the contrast of elements enough to find focus.  You must have the stars sharp so focusing on infinity is paramount.  Now you can try using a hyper focal distance but this does not always work and I find it better to focus on infinity and rely either on ensuring appropriate distance is maintained from any foreground or taking two exposures: one for the foreground and one for the stars, then blend them later in Photoshop or other software.  Here are a couple of focus tips: 1) Focus on something beyond 30 meters to approximate infinity.  This can be a distant light or even something illuminated with a flashlight or green laser pointer.  2) Pre-focus while you still have light to see and verify infinity focus; then, tape down  your focus ring and turn off auto focus. 3) Use Live View on your camera and zoom in on a distant light or bright star and focus, again remembering to tape your focus ring down with some gaffers tape after verifying focus.

The best way to determine this is to use the 500 Rule as a guide (500/focal length = max time for exposure).

Exposure:  Your ISO setting for Milky Way photography will likely be between 3200 – 12800, depending on your camera’s capabilities.  In most cases you will likely be around 6400.  You want your stars to appear as points of light in your image with little or no star trailing so to ensure this you should keep your exposure times appropriate for the lens focal length in use.  The best way to determine this is to use the 500 Rule as a guide (500/focal length = max time for exposure).  For example:  24mm lens would be ~21 sec (500/24 = 20.8333).  This is based on a full-frame sensor so if you have a cropped sensor you should do the math to convert the focal length it to full-frame equivalent before applying the 500 rule.  Good news is you only have to do this once to determine your max exposure time, then you will always have it for future sessions.  But reasonably, if you keep your exposures 25 sec or below you should be fine.

I will be posting more on this subject in future blogs.  For now just go out and have fun with it and explore how the night sky can captivate your imagination.  + We are in the middle of Milky Way season and regardless of the equipment you currently have get out and practice the technique and you might be surprised at your results while having a blast doing it.  In future posts I will go deeper into focusing, composing, best times to photograph the Milky Way, white balance settings, light painting, star trail techniques and more.

Comments and questions are welcomed.  I will always get back to answer any questions.

Visit and SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube Channel : https://www.youtube.com/c/CraigMcCordPhotography51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Looking Forward

Canon EOS 5DSR, .6 sec, f/22, EF 100-400L @ 370mm, ISO 100 Buttes looking East just outside Jackson, WY after an early dusting of snow.

Often we see the trend at year’s end  of reviewing the “best of”, “worst of”, the “review of” everything from movies, politics, the passing of famous persons, tweets, you name it. The list seems endless.  And of course we as photographers engage in this as we post or best (certainly not worst) images of the previous year.  Even Facebook offers a slide show of your work  or images for the previous year as an option to post to your Facebook timeline.  While there’s nothing wrong in my mind with this, I just didn’t feel motivated to follow the crowd this year.  Maybe I’m just too lazy to do the editorial review to come up with that list just for a one-day post to Facebook or elsewhere.

As I start this new year I will simply look forward to a path I hope to take with my work.   Maybe a kind of resolution but not in such a defining or absolute way.  Certainly I want to continue to grow and develop my creative eye and post processing skills.  By doing this it can only show up in the end product, the final image.  My work should continue to improve overall, which in turn provides fuel and motivation to continue to explore new techniques and further push the limits of photographic skills.

How might one proceed on such a path one might ask?  If you examined from a traditional “New Year’s resolution” standpoint, it may appear somewhat nebulous.  My intent though is to remain rather flexible because I am not sure what direction I will take as time moves forward.  Some considerations which I admonish young aspiring photographers to do certainly should apply.  These are valid in my view regardless of one’s skill level, particularly with regard to developing your creative eye.  That is, to study the work of other accomplished photographers and take lots of pictures.  Push the envelope, make mistakes and learn from both.

Other things I will no doubt focus on:

  • Focusing further on time-lapse techniques
  • Long exposure techniques
  • Reviewing increasing luminosity masking techniques
  • Increasing my YouTube segments to offer tutorials to other photographers
  • Expanding my workshop and seminar schedule

I hope you will continue to visit the blog , subscribe to my YouTube channel and FB page.  I am always interested in your feedback and any requests for tutorials in specific areas where you have an interest.  Maybe I might even have the honor of you attending one of my scheduled workshops for 2018′

Workshops

     Kansas Night Sky at Castle Rock Badlands, March 17, 2018  Spring in the Missouri Ozarks, April 19 – 22, 2018   Oregon Coast, Bandon Oregon,  May 10-14, 2018  Oregon Coast, Cape Perpetua to Newport, May 17 -21, 2018  Kansas Night Sky at Castle Rock Badlands, June 8th and July 13th, 2018

  Persieds Meteor Shower over the Flint Hills of Kansas, August 11-12, 2018

   Fall Color in the Grand Tetons, September 25 – 29, 2018 

  Fall in the Missouri Ozarks, October 19 -22, 2018

  Big Sur Winter, December 8 – 11, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

The Columbia River Gorge – Scarred for a Generation

Punch Bowl Falls, Columbia River Gorge

 

Upper McCord Creek Falls. This area was devastated by the fire

I have made several trips to the Columbia River Gorge area over the past few years.  This beautiful stretch along Scenic Hwy 30 just East of Portland, Oregon has been a beautiful treasure for hikers, photographers, nature lovers, and tourist for years.  Unfortunately, due to extremely careless actions of one or several young teens, reportedly setting off fireworks near Punch Bowl Falls, this area will likely never be the same.  Over 33, 000 acres had burned at one count.  If you have ever been to this beautiful area and are familiar with some of the beautiful waterfalls and their locations in the Gorge, you can’t help but be devastated and heartbroken as you view some of the fire images.

AP Photo of Gorge Fire

Fortunately, no lives were lost but 3 homes burned and local business which rely on tourism will likely be devastated as many consider revising vacation plans.  Even I had planned a  photography workshop in the Gorge for 2018, which is now on hold indefinitely.  Undoubtedly, the Eagle Creek fire will cost us all in terms of the loss of some beautiful areas to explore and photograph, but the local economy and small businesses that depend on visitors will likely suffer as well.

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge

I read one opinion that the teens in question are not to blame.  Rather, it is global warming, logging and capitalism at fault.  Really?????  Now I have no desire to rehash arguments, pro or con, about global warming.  As far a logging, there is not logging in the Gorge and logging as an industry in Oregon has been greatly reduced over the years due to environmental issues.  No, the cause and blame is clear: the carelessness and insensitivity of young kids, who maybe lacked proper guidance or mentoring from adults in their lives.  But it goes beyond that.  In recent months we have heard of even adults who clearly were aware of their actions, being prosecuted for defacing landmarks in national parks.  In some cases actions like these are irresponsible careless acts and in other cases deliberate criminal acts.  Either way we must do more to educate our young to  preserve and protect the  beautiful natural resources we have the good fortune to enjoy.  I am 66 years old and will likely never see again see the beauty of the Gorge as I remembered this past Spring.

Oneanta Gorge, Columbia River Gorge. The Oneonta Tunnel was also a casualty of the Eagle Creek Fire

Okay, enough.  I’m off my soapbox.

 

 

Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 Remarkable

Chuck Wagon in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Rokinon 12mm f/2.8mm

 

During a recent Craig McCord Night Photography workshop at the Flying W Ranch in the Kansas Flint Hills , I brought along a newly acquired Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 full frame fish eye lens.  The workshop was to focus on night photography and I was reluctant to put into play the Rokinon fish eye, not yet having explored its potential.  My focus was properly on the workshop attendees.  However, the next morning I decided I would run it through a few paces with some test shots.

Wow, the tack sharp image quality blew me away.  I already owned the Rokinon 24mm f/1/4 and the 14mm f/2.8, both of which are fine manual lens and are high performers in photographing

Rokinon 12mm, f/2.0, 25 sec,

the night sky.  Already I could see this new 12mm fish eye lens  would be a great addition to my night shooting tool chest.  The lens is totally manual, but the manual focus is not a problem and in most cases you seem to have infinite depth of field.  There is very little field curvature issues and coma aberration is almost non-existent, a huge consideration in astrophotography.

Rokinon 12mm, f/2.8 Full Frame Fisheye

Price??   Well, that is another plus.  You can pick this jewel up for around $400 or less through B&H Photo.  You can probably get it even cheaper through Greentoe Name Your Price.  This is a far cry from say the Canon 11-24mm L for about $2800.

Filters:  Like most fisheye lenses, you can’t really  use filters without some rather expensive adapters and special filters.  I don’t really see this as an issue however because of how and when one employes this lens.

I could go on but I will leave it at highly recommending this as an addition to your equipment bag, especially if you like a little astrophotography.

Spring in the Ozarks

 

 

 

In just a week I will be heading back to the Missouri Ozarks in preparation for my Spring Ozark Workshop.  For some years I have been conducting both Spring an Fall workshops in the Shannon County area along the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a part of the National Park System.  The area is replete with streams, shut-ins, old mills, natural springs and other features that make this area a photographer’s candy store.

An Ozark dogwood bloom.

The redbuds are already in spring bloom and a patchwork of blooming dogwoods will soon paint the hills of the Ozarks.  As I begin my 4 hour drive next week to reach one of my favorite shooting locations I will contemplate my planned shooting schedule.  I typically don’t like to set a  hard shoot schedule ahead of time

Blooming redbuds at Prairie Hollow Gorge, Shannon County, MO

because I prefer to take a couple of days to recon the area for stream conditions and researching new areas of interest.  While after photographing this area for a number of years, I still seem to find hidden gems.  Even the familiar places always seem to offer up subtle changes, or maybe one just begins to see in a broader sense.

Alley Mill and Spring, Shannon County, MO

Everyone loves the mills you can find in the area.  Alley Mill and Spring are one of the most photographed sites in Missouri, and for good reason.  The mill, part of the National Park Service and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, was recently reconditioned.  The mill, while not a functioning mill, does have some of the original milling equipment still inside where the NPS now has a small gift shop and info center about the mill’s history.

Another attraction in the area are the natural springs.  One, about 15 minutes north of Eminence, MO, is Round Spring.  While not a huge spring at 55 feet deep,  it does pump out 26 million  gallons per day.  Another impressive spring is Blue Spring.  Now Blue Spring is deep enough at 300 feet to submerge the Statue of Liberty, all expect for a few feet.  And it is the 6th largest spring in Missouri with a discharge of 90 million gallons per day.  Seeing pictures of these springs people will often ask if they are really “that blue”.  Yes, they are.

Submerged snag at Blue Spring

 

Round Spring

Another feature of the are I always try to include is a visit with the wild horses of Shannon County.  For several years I could never catch these beautiful animals and began to refer to them as the “phantom horses of Shannon County”.  But have been more fortunate in last few years.  Workshop participants always love this treat and the opportunity to photography them.

 

 

Wild Horses of Shannon County

No doubt it will be another wonderful Spring in the Ozarks.

If you are interested in attending one of these great workshops in the future, please visit my workshop page.  Fall will be here before you know it.  Fall in the Ozarks is spectacular.

FALL WORKSHOP IN THE OZARKS DETAILS HERE

 

 

Whittemer House

Whittemer House

Just finished up planning details for my night photography workshop in the Kansas Flint Hills.  I must say there is something about night photography that I really enjoy, the sense of mystery, the vastness and beauty of the night sky, all making one realize how insignificant we are in relation the universe.

Exploring subject matter and doing a little night photography in preparation for my workshop made for a cold and lonely night.  That is one of the drawbacks.  Late nights, especially in the summer months when it does not get dark until late, can really mess with your sleep pattern.  But I must say the reward can make it all worthwhile.  If you are out alone though, the darkness can be rather spooky.  On this night there were horses out in a pasture at this location.  I knew they were there but they mostly stayed a couple hundred yards away.  After setting up one camera to take multiple continuous shots to potentially be used in a time lapse sequence,  I retreated to my vehicle to relax.  It was cold and a little windy so I thought I would warm up and check my email on my phone.   After about 10 minutes relaxing in my car something banged on the side of my truck.  Scared the bejeez out of me.  Turns out the horses must have gotten curious and decided to pay a visit and bump my truck as if to say, BOO!  Well, it worked.  I jumped out of the truck to see what or who was there.  I then noticed a group of four or five horses begin to wander off, probably engaging in a little horse’s laughter among themselves, having succeeded in spooking the visitor.  Having someone else along has a number of benefits, if for no other reason than combatting loneliness and warding off those unsuspecting bumps in the night.

Notwithstanding the interesting experiences of the evening, I came away with a few images and was able to compile this brief star trail/Milky Way time lapse.

Hope you enjoy….Comments and shares welcomed. 🙂

if interested in attending this comprehensive classroom and field workshop, August 19-20, 2017, check out the details at this here:  NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE KANSAS FLINT HILLS

A Few More of My Black and White Focus

Wyoming Aspens

 

A few months back I posted that I was going to lean toward returning to my black and white roots, that I would focus this year on my black and white work.  Now, I soon realized I could not do that in the purest sense.  I still must work in color as well to support demands of my photographic workshops.  But still I am committed to printing only my personal b/w work for any exhibit or simply my own personal enjoyment.  Here are a couple of images included in late work that I hope you enjoy.  Would love to hear what you think.

 

Falling Springs Mill, Missouri Ozarks

 

Haceta Head, Low Tide, Oregon Coast
Moulton Barn, Grand Tetons